There is this wrong impression we had about the name from Saul to Paul, an impression we inherited from the CRK that we did during our secondary school days. It was the impression that after his conversion, his name was also converted from Saul to Paul. But this is not true. Both names rather define Paul’s personality and mission. His Hebrew name is Saul (Shaul) from the verb which means to ask. However, he is commonly known with his Greco-Roman cognomen, Paulos, from Latin, meaning small. Thus, Paul was a small man asked by our Lord to evangelize the world on his behalf. His Jewish name therefore defines his mission while his Roman name rhymes with his physical stature.
Lending credence to his name, we could say that Paul was a very cosmopolitan man. In him three different cultures came together; Judaism, Hellenism and Romanism. Each culture was not exclusive of the others. This gives Paul a very complex identity. This is predicated on the fact that as a Jew, he is a Pharisee and a son of a Pharisee (Acts.23:6), he is also a Greek by culture having evidently received a Greek education (Act.27:28), and Paul was a Roman citizen being born in Rome (Acts.22:28). Perhaps, no wonder he was uniquely qualified for his mission to the Gentiles.
However, before his conversion, he zealously sought to persecute the church (Gal 1:13). His conversion experience (on the road to Damascus) is recorded three times in Acts 9:1-9; 22:6-16; 26:12-23). The encounter with Christ, though sudden and dramatic, it had enduring effects both for him and for Christianity. For the effects on Christianity, the Church became identified with the body of Christ, freed from persecution and Law, and spread beyond Jewish frontiers. On the part of Paul, he was converted from a persecutor to a propagator and the persecuted, Jesus identity was revealed to him. Among others, it qualified him as an apostle. Although Luke differs in his criteria for apostleship, Paul will always call himself an apostle of Christ because he was aimed at legitimizing his missionary activities.
In his mission, Christ commissioned him to preach the gospel to the Gentile (Gal 1:16). Paul undertook three missionary Journeys (1 Acts 13:2-15:29; 15:36-18:22; 18:23-21:16). His missionary programme is characterized by universality because he preached to the ends of the world, communion because he consolidated his good news by personal encounter with his converts, and proclamation because that was his primary aim.
Consequently, this mission to the Gentiles led to his arrest on false charges by the Jews before the Roman governors. False charges because they accused him of confusing some Jews to abandon the law of Moses, and not to circumcise. But we see Paul doing normal ritual of the Jew and telling even Timothy to circumcise. Besides, Paul never said that circumcision is not for the Jews but that it should not be compulsory for the Gentiles.
Moreover, he appealed to be tried before the Emperor, as a Roman citizen. Paul’s hazardons sea Journey to Rome is described in Acts 27:1-28:14. Neither letters nor Acts tells us about his death, but there is a good tradition written by St. Clement of Alexandria (clem 5:4-5) that he was martyred under Emperor Nero in 64AD and buried on the Via Ostiensis.
One thing interestingly significant about Paul is that in spite of his arrest and persecutions, he was cool, calm, comfortable, composed, and cordinated in his mission. No wonder out of the 27 books of the New Testament, 13 are attributed to him. The life of St. Paul therefore, should challenge us to remain steadfast in our love for God in spite of certain challenges and controversies of life’s situation.